Most of us will never forget the attacks of September 11, 2001. But for many of the kids born after that terrible day, or who were too young to remember it, "9-11" is a vague term. For families affected by the tragedy, the idea that generations would grow up without learning the lessons from that day and what it meant to our country is upsetting, given the pledge to "never forget."
Now, some September 11 families are pushing schools to include the event's history as part of the curriculum for kids from kindergarten through high school, starting with a series of pilot education programs across the country to teach children about the attacks and their aftermath.
Writing history so soon after an event is never easy, particularly when it comes to something like September 11, where everyone has different ideas on what lessons we should learn, both from the attacks and the nation's response to them. There are the questions of what to teach a 5-year-old versus a 15-year-old; how to teach without bias or prejudice; and how to teach children that they can effect change in the world.
And given the diversity of today's classrooms, another goal of these programs is to get teachers to feel more comfortable addressing the events of September 11, which can be tricky on several levels.
"We're not preaching, we're not advocating, we're instead encouraging students to look at several points of view and clarify their own views, and give them the tools to be active citizens, like how to write a letter to the editor or how to advocate for an elected official," explains Michael Krasner, co-director of the Taft Institute for Government and associate professor of political science at City University of New York's Queens College.
Krasner, who along with his colleague Jack Zevin and the September 11th Education Trust, developed a curriculum for middle and high school students that is being taught for the first time this year at schools in such states as New York, California, Alabama and Kansas. Much of the material, which Krasner says focuses on civic participation, stems from interviews with survivors, first responders and politicians, like Rudy Giuliani, New York's mayor at the time, and Hillary Clinton, who was a New York state senator at the time of the attacks.
"When you're writing curriculum, you have to be thinking about it strategically," he explains. "You can't do that if you're feeling in awe of someone because she was so composed and brave, or bowled over by something someone did on the 87th floor to free someone from a stack of collapsed dry wall. You've got to deal with your own emotional reaction. You have to read these transcripts without having your own feelings."